What Constitutes Reasonable Suspicion for a DUI?

People in the United States are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. This means that law enforcement cannot detain you (which is considered a “seizure”) or conduct any sort of search unless there is evidence suggesting that you might have done something illegal.

As it relates to driving under the influence, a police officer can pull you over or test your blood alcohol if you exhibit signs of possible intoxication. In this case, the justification for the search and/or seizure is called reasonable suspicion. If you exhibit driving behaviors that may indicate intoxication, that represents sufficient grounds for an initial traffic stop. Furthermore, if an officer has pulled you over for something unrelated to DUI but notices signs that you may be intoxicated, he or she can legally conduct breath tests or field sobriety assessments.

Reasonable Suspicion During an Unrelated Stop

The police officer may pull you over for something unrelated to impaired driving. For example, maybe you have a tail light or headlight that has burned out, and the officer pulls you over to draw your attention to it. While talking to you about the burnt-out light on your vehicle, the officer might notice something else that suggests you may be under the influence. Maybe there is an open container or drug paraphernalia in your vehicle. Maybe your eyes are bloodshot or your breath smells of alcohol. Maybe you are slurring your speech. Whatever the signs might be, they give the officer reasonable suspicion that a crime may have taken place, which means he or she has the right to conduct a limited investigation into the matter.

Driving Behaviors That Could Result in a Traffic Stop

Sometimes erratic driving that may indicate intoxication is sufficient reasonable suspicion to justify a traffic stop. Examples of suspicious driving behaviors include drifting over the lines that divide the lanes or straddling the center line, stopping for no reason or braking frequently, nearly hitting roadside objects or making illegal turns. Once an officer pulls you over for behaviors such as these, he or she has justification to conduct breath or sobriety testing. However, in the interest of strengthening the case against you, the officer will probably be looking for other signs of intoxication during the stop.

If it turns out the officer’s suspicion was not reasonable, the DUI case against you is no longer valid even if you were, in fact, intoxicated. Contact a DUI lawyer in Fairfax, VA, like from May Law, LLP, if you believe your DUI arrest was made without reasonable suspicion. An attorney can help you build your defense.